Dada Gawand - Attention! Attention!
by Suma Varughese
In his simple, serene way, Dada Gawand teaches to the world that watchful, attentive awareness alone can set the mind free
Sage-philosopher Dada Gawand has a stark and simple philosophy. Watch the patterns of your mind attentively and with awareness. That is all you need to reclaim your heritage of lasting peace and bliss.
So this was his paradise-a clearing in the Yeeor Hills on the outskirts of hot and dusty Thane, near Mumbai. A few houses stand gracefully, and at ease, among the trees and the underfoot growth. Birdsong rippled through the air. Hens were scrabbling in the mud, as their chicks huddled under their wings. A few feet away, a black and white kitten, its tail curving in sheer joy of life, pretended to pounce on the hens, who pecked on, unperturbed. A young girl stood in an overgrown yard watching life go by. All was peaceful, simple, natural.
So was the picture book house we stopped at-a narrow two-storey building with sloping tiled roofs. White doves clustered around the gables, and swooped down to drink from the water-holder. Guava and other trees grew robustly in neat round concrete-lined beds. A sunshade with chairs was placed invitingly on one side of the garden. As we stood there and breathed in the visceral peace of the place, we had a precursor of the personality of the owner of the house.
The man who warmly welcomed us was not young. Eighty-five or thereabouts, he was lean and spry, with an alert, lively face, honed to its essence. His movements were fluid and quick and when he sat cross-legged as we talked, his torso was erect and still. He radiated a friendliness and an acceptance that put us at ease instantly. There were no trappings of conventional religion. No pictures of deities or saffron robes or agarbatti. No offerings of flowers and fruits. No genuflection either. He addressed us as matter-of-factly as a tutor would his students.
Dada Gawand is not an advocate of conventional religion, or of any of the tried and tested paths to enlightenment. His prescription is simple: attentive watchful awareness of the patterns of thought. This act alone is enough to vaporize the thoughts and set you free from the burden of the mind. If this is strikingly close to J. Krishnamurti‘s philosophy, it is not without reason. He spent some time with Krishnamurti before he moved on to forge his own inner journey.
Born in 1917 in Mumbai as Dattaram Madhavrao Gawand, his spiritual quest unfolded early. Though born in comfortable surroundings, he chafed at the convention and hypocrisy of society, and the dehumanizing impact of materialism. But he was the eldest and, on his father‘s untimely death, had to assume the responsibilities of taking care of his siblings, which included arranging for their marriages. On the third day of the marriage of the youngest sibling, Dada, as he was universally known, disappeared from home to seek his spiritual destiny. After eight months of solitary seeking and questioning at Mount Sajjangad, he experienced a mystical explosion in his inner domain, a sudden flow of timeless energy within, and a state of peace and ecstasy never known before.
After this, he stayed in semi-solitude for 14 years on Mount Mahabaleshwar. Since 1975, Dada has been sharing his understanding by extensive travel and lectures in the USA, Canada, Europe and of course India. Compiling his experiences and thoughts is his book Beyond the Mind that is about the deeper significance of living. Written in dialogic form, the book tries to answer ideas of liberation, sexuality, healing, imprisonment, expression etc. He has also held numerous meditation camps called Exploration into Oneself, but today he prefers to work with small groups and individuals in order to communicate on a personal level. Where he was once a keen sportsman and freedom fighter, he now writes poetry, excels in photography, and campaigns for freedom of the inner kind.
Excerpts from an intense interview:
What are the main tenets of your philosophy?
I don‘t have a set philosophy. Whatever I say is the outcome of the present moment. Besides, I don‘t trust words. The mind uses them, as it does everything else, to escape from the hard task of changing itself. The basic challenge of man is to discover that quality which is hidden within us and allow it to express itself. But this is difficult because of the blocks the mind sets up, such as the pre-occupation with things, even with reading spiritual literature.
What is the way to overcome these blocks?
There is no set answer. What is the hindrance blocking that quality? We need to be attentive to that block and that‘s the main challenge. Yogis and saints have found out several ways and techniques, but all are used by the mind to keep it busy. I believe only watchful awareness will set us free.
But can this approach work for all?
Why not? The conditioning of the mind is the same.
It is believed that different paths appeal to different temperaments.
By creating different paths we are creating separation and divisiveness. Conflicts arise because each thinks his path is the best.
What have been the significant events of your own spiritual journey?
I listened to masters, even read a few books. But I found that this was my own journey. Nobody can help. What is required is watchful, attentive awareness. It‘s a journey into the inner self, that‘s all. But we hesitate, and the mind is extroverted. It hesitates to take a turn, to enter within. The whole riches of the world, all the virtues, are basically inside. On the outside there is only the concept of virtues. Try to watch these concepts. The mind can never be virtuous or divine. All that is inside.
Can meditation help move the mind within?
Meditation is the fallout of attention-watchful attention. It‘s not a spiritual act. Meditation to me it‘s only a search into oneself, to dispel the patterns of thoughts, to enter the tranquility within.
Can the pursuit of this tranquility be balanced with the demands of a householder‘s life?
Oh, yes. We all need the basics of life for survival. But be balanced. Do not create more wants. We collect more and more of everything, including books. This last is intellectual greed. The mind becomes greedy for knowledge. This is the burden of intellect.
How do you get the mind to let go of this obsession with things?
Look at the world at large. What is so great about it? We never have the time to look at it quietly, independently. What we see is just the continuity of life. To me life is a discovery. We have to find that dynamism, energy.
What is the state of one who has reached inner tranquility?
Abundant peace and contentment. And whenever there is a challenge, there is a response, a creative response that does not resort to memory.
Looking at the world today, what do you think lies ahead for mankind?
The world was always like this. There is not much difference. Krishna, Ram, Buddha came and society digested them all, but it remains the same.
What do you think of the belief in a new age, when society as a whole will be transformed?
Only a human being can achieve enlightenment, not mankind. Only he who is honest, sensible, sensitive, and sincere can hope to achieve this state. And there are very few of such.
So there‘s no likelihood that mankind will attain lasting peace?
Man has always hoped for this. But it depends on each of us. The reality is that we can transform only ourselves. Nature wants man to transform, to become like it. To come back to the natural state is fulfillment. To become free of all obsessions-that is enlightenment.
Does being with nature provide a way within?
Become aware of nature. Become sensitive to it. An intellectual appreciation of it is not enough. We have worshipped the intellect too much. Now we have reached a dead end. The intellect has really obliged us. It has given us so much. But if we want to move further, this intellect is not going to oblige. Its function is over. The mind is secondhand activity, which is born of memory. People have spent so many years in searching for enlightenment. Is so much time necessary? That which is past is over. We avoid freshness of the moment by indulging in the past.
What was your own search like?
came from a business family. We were fairly rich. But from an early age I was aware of the absurdity of the life we led. Everyone was copying everyone else. We were made by our surroundings-traditions, culture, family background, media. I saw that I was the result of environmental influences, nothing else. I saw people enslaved by social conditioning till the end of their lives. I wondered if another way of life was possible. A mighty intelligence had created the universe and here I was, living like a robot. I wondered if there was a deeper significance to life. At this stage, I visited many ashrams. I went to the Aurobindo ashram, I met Ramana Maharshi and Krishmanurti. I was with Krishnamurti for a while and then I told him that I no longer wanted to read his words or anyone‘s words. I wanted to discover for myself. And do you know what he said? He said: ‘‘I am so glad.‘‘ At these ashrams, I saw good people, happy, contented. What was that state of mind, to be contented? I soon came to know that no one could give me the answers. I had to discover them for myself. This whole outer is the manifestation of the mind. But there had to be something intrinsic. Where did that lie? I wondered about the energy that emerged from us, creating desires. We were using that energy for trivial reasons, merely dancing at the periphery of life. We need to ponder about these questions independently. Pondering is a sensitive activity. To look without ideas and opinions and without thought. Is it possible? And generally, there is no time for that. Thought activity is so strong.
When did you find answers to your questions?
There‘s a kind of breakthrough when the situation is right. It is not in our hands. It is a great blessing of nature. He who aspires will be helped by nature. But we must have that strong passion. Our passions are smaller. Born out of other things.
Is there God?
There is another dimension, which is divine, timeless. It‘s an energy. A very intelligent energy. To discover that is the touch of the divine. ‘God‘ is a misused term. The mind creates concepts and goes after that. Thought is the barrier between you and the divine. Understand the designs of thought and be aware of them. And then you will dispel the thought patterns. That is important.
What is the relationship between spirituality and creativity? You, for instance, have created copious poetry.
Creation happens in the sensitivity of understanding. After that you are changed. You become highly sensitive. I never wrote poetry. It just came out of me. Suddenly a door had opened from within.
Post enlightenment, what is your role in life?
I have to live life. I don‘t have my own drives and ambitions. I have to live like a simple, humble entity.
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